When it comes to learning disabilities, what's in a name? Ingrid, the mother of an 8-year-old daughter with dyslexia and ADHD, wrote to us with the following question regarding labels and confidence:
My 8-year-old, second grade daughter was recently diagnosed with dyslexia and ADHD, and I’m struggling with how to tell her this. She’s been working with a tutor, so she knows something is wrong with her reading. I want her to be relieved this has a name and not say the wrong thing and scar her for life. What is the best way to approach this subject?
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One of our Parent Support Specialists, Diane Taranto, herself the mother of a daughter with dyslexia, responded with the following suggestions:
I agree with you that giving a name to your daughter’s struggles will help her. She’s likely to feel unburdened to learn that she has dyslexia.
A good way to begin your conversation is to explain that she has difficulty decoding words and reading fluently, and that her brain uses different neural pathways to read than does a typical reader. Always be positive in your tone. Expressing disappointment or fear will likely be projected onto her. Explain to her that her brain is in no way inferior, and is in many ways superior. Give her the facts about what dyslexia is
, including the benefits. I like Dr. Sally Shaywitz’s
“Sea of Strengths” model of dyslexia, whereby dyslexia is characterized as an “island of weakness surrounded by a sea of strengths.” The island is decoding; the sea of strengths is composed of reasoning, concept formation, comprehension, general knowledge, problem solving, vocabulary and critical thinking.
Highlight the many dyslexic luminaries, e.g. 2009 Nobel Prize Winner in Medicine Carol Greider, the author and Academy Award-winning screenwriter John Irving, actor Tom Cruise and billionaire business magnate and Virgin Airlines founder Richard Branson, to name a few.
Explain that success is not dependent upon the ability to be a good visual reader and a proficient speller. She will learn to read, but because of her dyslexia, she needs a different method of reading instruction than does a non-dyslexic student. Also, tell her that now is a good time to be dyslexic, as we are living in an age of rapidly changing technology. Listening to audiobooks is becoming commonplace.
The Dyslexia Empowerment Plan
by Ben Foss is an excellent, practical resource. Ben, despite his dyslexia, holds an MBA/JD from Stanford University, and invented the Intel Reader. His book deals with topics such as letting go of shame and advice for parents to help their children develop, appreciate and utilize their strengths. The book also discusses the three types of reading: eye reading, finger reading and ear reading. While it’s true that most people eye read, doing so is in no way better than ear reading. Any reading is simply a way to acquire information, not to synthesize it.
Finally, if there are areas in her cognitive profile that demonstrate solidly above-average strengths, show them to her, or ask the diagnostician to do so. Pointing them out may impress upon her that dyslexia in no way affects her intellectual abilities.
To schedule a 30-minute phone consultation with Diane or one of Learning Ally’s other Parent Support Specialists, visit Our Parent Support Team or call 800-635-1403.